Len Maseko

Len Maseko

Few phenomenons have as profound an effect on the life of an individual or situation as change.

For better or worse, it challenges the humdrum of everyday life or the inevitability of the mundane, either with the suddenness and force of the hurricane uprooting a tree or deceptive stealth of a leopard stalking its prey.

Yet, whatever the circumstances, no one or no situation remains the same in its wake.

Was it former British prime minister Harold Wilson, who said: "He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery."

Inevitably, change has pounced on Sowetan, a paper with the tradition of being the voice of the black masses, with its characteristic unnerving poise and resonance.

61 Commando Street, Industria, Johannesburg, home to Sowetan for nearly three decades since 1981, ceases from today from being its familiar address.

The newspaper will move from its symbolic home on the border of the township that gave it its name to the northern suburbs of Rosebank. An unlikely address for a newspaper whose predecessors - Bantu World, The World and The Weekend WorldandPost - had become a landmark and an anchor tenant of one of Johannesburg's enduring industrial areas, west of the city.

It was a celebrated address that attracted both the ordinary and the powerful. In fact, the power that went through the newspaper's gates reads like a "who's who" of the world - from former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, US Senator Edward Kennedy, English soccer legend John Barnes, tennis ace Arthur Ashe and African American icon Andrew Young.

They came to visit an iconic paper housed in a pallid building that was hardly a beacon of modern architecture, and which was once home to the then Banner News Agency (BNA), now trading as Allied Publishing.

Describing then to journalist Paul Bell his first impressions of the paper on his arrival at 61 Commando Road in 1988, former Sowetan general manager Rory Wilson remembers being shocked at what he found.

"The building had virtually no ceilings. There was no carpeting. The news editor did not have his own chair and his desk had no legs at one end; it was propped up by another chair.

"On the desk (in one corner), laid on top of a typewriter, was a half-eaten sheep's head. The bloody thing (typewriter) didn't work. The hammers (of the typewriter) punched holes straight through the copy paper," Wilson said.

It would take nearly eight months to bring the paper to the new wave of technology, which meant rickety typewriters giving way to computer technology.

Writing about the halcyon days of Sowetan, its first editor, Joe Latakgomo, says Sowetan "is more than a just a source of daily news - it has been inspirational during difficult times.

The road ahead is still rocky, and there will always be challenges faced by the media.

"But Sowetan will be well-prepared to face up to these challenges, thanks to its pedigree," he says.

American luminary Alan Cohen once said it took a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure to embrace the new.

But, he said, there was no real security in what was no longer meaningful.

"There was more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power," Cohen said.

Indeed, change is now upon Sowetan, motioning it to step forward to a path leading yonder.

It dare not surrender its historical mark of courage which has always given it a sense of purposefulness.